Proclamations of Thanksgiving by Garrett Smith

Everyone is familiar with Thanksgiving. It is a time when families and friends come together to celebrate all that they have been given, and to celebrate the opening of the Christmas season. Most people are familiar with the story of the pilgrims reaching Plymouth Rock and exchanging meals with Native Americans, but many people are unfamiliar with the fact that two of our most admired and respected presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – are responsible for the celebration of Thanksgiving as we know it. Although other politicians and various people had earlier proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving, it was Washington and Lincoln who formed the foundation of this day of thanks as we now celebrate it.

Shortly after our nation’s founding, President Washington decided it was time for a day of dedication to God, in thanks for the new nation and all that He had bestowed upon Washington and the country. On October 3, 1789, in New York City, Washington stated, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’”Thanksgiving would later be celebrated on November 26 of that year.

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Flash forward to 1863. The Civil War had been raging for two years. The tide of the war, however, had just turned in favor of the Union, as the Confederate Army had suffered a significant defeat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just months earlier. On October 3, 1863, 74 years after Washington’s proclamation, President Lincoln echoed Washington’s call for a day of thanks and celebration. “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from where they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.[1] Following Lincoln’s proclamation, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November, until it was changed to the fourth Thursday in November under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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After Washington’s presidency, Thanksgiving was celebrated for a short time, until it was discontinued by Thomas Jefferson. It was Lincoln who revived it, and it was made a federal holiday under his watch. Although we have Washington and Lincoln to thank for this day of celebration, we must not forget who to ultimately thanks, and this is God, as well as his son, Jesus Christ, giving us all that we have and for saving us. How horrible it is for someone to say that our nation did not have some sort of Almighty anointing, when President Washington himself was the first president to proclaim a national day of thanks. Hopefully, America will continue to remember ourselves as “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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Works Cited

  1. “The National Archives Celebrate Thanksgiving”. National Archives. 2013.
  2. “Proclamation of Thanksgiving.” Abraham Lincoln Online. 2018. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

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